Original release: April 13th, 1955
Running time: 115 minutes
Country of origin: France
Original language: French
Director: Jules Dassin
Writers: Auguste le Breton, Jules Dassin, René Wheeler
Cast: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel, Jules Dassin, Magali Noël
“Un”-American director Jules Dassin, Jules Dassin, driven into exile by McCarthy’s blacklist of alleged communist sympathisers, went on to resuscitate his career in France with a film which would see so many of the archetypes it minted still in cinematic currency today.
When aging jewel-thief Tony le Stephanois is released from a five-year stint in the slammer (early “on good behaviour” of course) his partner in crime proposes one last job. But crumple-suited Tony is going straight, except for the booze and gambling, or thinks he is until he finds his old beau is now rival mobster Pierre Grutter’s courtisane.
After getting his house in order- to use the gangster euphemism for ordering her to disrobe and lashing her repeatedly with a belt- he calls up his big blonde apprentice Jo le Suédois to tell him the good news: nihilistic abandon has inspired him to take on new employment, or in his words: “A man’s gotta live.” Indeed.
Jo’s scheme- to shoplift a few measly diamonds from the window display- is not nearly big enough for Tony’s renewed appetite for risk and reward. The old man wants the 240 million franc contents of a rather well defended safe. Mon Dieu.
With the help of two Italians, the breezy Mario Ferrati and raffish César le Milanais (Surly and Muscles of course completing the quartet), they set about planning to elude various security measures, getting acquainted with one another and getting nervous.
The celebrated robbery scene lasts half-an-hour, sans dialogue, sans music, sans pretty much everything. Everything, that is, except tip-toes, drilling, abseiling, anxious perspiration and the ingenious use of an umbrella. It’s unadulterated heist. The New York Times called it “a master-class in breaking and entering”; and among nerve-wracking, tantalising and exhilarating I would emphatically count thorough as a pertinent adjective. We can imagine the studious robbers taking notes and security firms cursing the commie bastard who just prematurely retired their merchandise.
Whether the heist goes smoothly I won’t say, but the film doesn’t end there; and when the nefarious Grutter and his cronies get involved it’s not their primary motive to make Tony & co. look saintly by comparison.
From the commotion of Parisian boulevards to gathering beads of sweat on furrowed foreheads, the cinematography looks crisp, bright and detailed on Blu-Ray. If you’re watching on a vast screen then you’ll probably notice some pixilation, and ghostly distortions of movement in the background occur once or twice. But it hardly diminishes a polished re-release of this peerless education in crime cinema.
Dominic is an English graduate, promiscuous dilettante and epistemological liability. He likes the sentimentalisation of loathsomeness, fetishized Teutonic Romanticism, the labour theory of value and Manchester United’s transcendent Bulgarian striker, Dimitar Berbatov. He abominates Certainty, curses The Wealth of Nations, and detests only mayonnaise more than asinine bathetic turns.
His favourite kinds of film are laborious, unyielding, laboriously unyielding, anything you’ve never heard of, and pornographic. At twenty-three, his achievements include A Spectroscopic Study of the Notion of Perineum in Jane Austen’s Later-Early Period, for which he won a MOBO award, and this sentence.